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Runners benefit from weight-training program

I am a creature of habit. It's not that I don't like to try new things. I just really love my comfort zone.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way I train. I have been working out essentially the same way for about 12 years. I did a weightlifter's workout on my legs about twice a week, usually on days I didn't run or when I was running less than three miles. I rarely work my upper body and, in fact, hadn't worked my back since I ran my first marathon in 2006.

I won't bore you with the evolution of my weight training, but suffice it to say I had eliminated everything except leg weights and once in a while I worked my arms. Then Neil Anderson, master trainer and host of the Fitness Zone on 1280 AM, who is helping me train to run multiple marathons next year, changed all of that.

First, he sent me Hal Higdon's 18-week marathon training schedule for novices. Higdon has a variety of training schedules, including some for intermediate and advanced runners who have aspirations of winning — or at least improving their times significantly.

Then, he sent me a weight workout that Anderson himself designed with a distance runner's goals in mind. (See the training schedule here.

I opened the weight-training program, read it and thought, "What? Work every body part on one day? Is he crazy?"

First of all, if I am completely honest, I hate weights. In fact, when other runners recommend skipping weights altogether, especially upper body weights, I am tempted. Now I will tell you why I can't do that. When I was training for my first marathon I did very little weight training. I just started running longer and longer courses each day. But in my third week when I went over eight miles, I began having lower back spasms. I had them during my runs and sometimes they lasted for a day or two afterward.

I consulted with several professionals and decided to work my upper body just once a week. I did that, very carefully, and after a few weeks, the spasms were almost nonexistent. I haven't worked my back consistently in the last year, and I assume that taking on a significant hill or any distance over seven or eight miles will expose this weakness again.

That's why, when Anderson suggested I come to The Fitness Zone where he works in Farmington and give the program a try, I agreed. I have to say it was the easiest weight-training workout I've ever done. I loved it. I was done in 30 minutes, warm-up and cool down included. And unlike when I've gone back to my traditional weight training, which consisted of working body parts on opposite days and doing three sets, 12 to 15 reps, I wasn't seriously sore.

I was sore enough to know it was working, but not in so much pain I had to take it easy — or take a runner's best friend — Motrin.

The best part of the plan Neil gave me is that it's a sprint workout. I move from exercise to exercise with no rest. I was huffing and puffing midway through the workout, which made it a lot more like a cardio experience than the traditional weightlifting tedium.

I want to address a couple of questions I received from readers. First, there are actually six Utah marathons, I neglected to mention Logan in my last column. The Utah Grand Slam, as it turns out, is the original four marathons, Ogden, Deseret Morning News, Park City and St. George. I am undecided about whether I will attempt all six. I'm committed to the Grand Slam, but I will decide by December if I'll also run the Salt Lake and Logan marathons.

Second, there are countless workout resources on the Internet and in bookstores. Some of the best advice I've gotten is from other experienced runners. But one of the most valuable things I've learned is that what works for my friend Jeff Jones doesn't necessarily work for me. That's part of the challenge and triumph of distance running. You get to decide whether those limits are in your mind or whether they're your body telling you to do something differently.

NEXT: How do you stay motivated to run when the weather turns cold? Should you run inside? Should you bundle up and continue running outside? Are treadmills easier on your knees?